Cal Ripken was no different than Albert Belle or Scott Erickson. He did not want to spend this day at the ballpark. He did not want an extra plane ride and he did not want to play in a meaningless exhibition game when the Baltimore Orioles are in a grueling stretch of games that seems likely to drain whatever hope is left in this terrible season.
Yet Ripken did show up this afternoon. And he once more did all the things that have made him baseball's best ambassador the last five years.
He sat in a sweltering dugout for three rounds of interviews. He met privately with parents who had recently lost a child to illness. Using the public address microphone, he thanked the fans for their support of him during a difficult season. And after making a brief appearance in the exhibition game between the Orioles and their Class AAA affiliate, the Rochester Red Wings, he returned to the field to sign autographs.
"I'll always remember the special feeling I had when I was in Triple-A here and the big league team came to town," Ripken said before the teams played to a 1-1 tie in front of a sellout crowd of 13,307 at Frontier Field. "It's a chance to dream a little and maybe compare yourself to the big leaguers. I remember how I looked forward to this one game. I've tried to remember that feeling today. It's hard to have that same feeling when you're on the big league side. Sometimes the timing doesn't work out."
Ripken, as expected, played only briefly. He flied out to center field in the top of the first inning, then was removed from the lineup as Manager Ray Miller quickly turned the game over to his reserves and an array of minor leaguers called up to play in the game.
Miller didn't use Brady Anderson, B.J. Surhoff or Harold Baines at all. His other starters were around long enough to get one at-bat.
Some fans were upset that they didn't see more of the stars, but the brief appearances were Miller's concession to a game the Orioles players believed had been removed from the schedule.
If they didn't play, they did the next best thing. Anderson won a home run hitting contest by belting nine drives over the fence, including a couple of shots that bounced off the 30-foot-high scoreboard in right field.
Surhoff and Erickson signed autographs for almost two hours, and others posed for pictures or took part in the hokey games that are the staple of minor league baseball.
"We were kind of disappointed Cal got pulled out of the game so soon," said Milt Cummings, a tool and die designer who brought his wife and two children to the game. "It would have been nice to see some of the guys play a little longer. It was a quiet atmosphere. A game here is usually pretty rowdy."
As for Belle, who last week posted a petition encouraging his teammates to boycott tonight's game, he was booed loudly when he was introduced in a pregame ceremony that resembled that of a World Series game. He motioned for the fans to boo a bit louder as he trotted onto the field, then was cheered sarcastically when he struck out in the top of the first inning.
Belle had been singled out because of his petition drive, which also drew the signature of Erickson. Other teammates preferred not to play, but did not sign the petition before it was removed. Newspaper columnists here criticized Belle for several days, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle printed an editorial that said: "It's troubling that tonight's game is to many of the Orioles a disagreeable duty. . . . Rochester isn't merely some dusty city in the boondocks. . . . This isn't the back country. This is where baseball lives -- or will die."
The game itself didn't have many highlights. Charles Johnson scored the Orioles' only run by doubling and coming home on a double-play grounder in the fifth. Rochester's Howie Clark tied it with a homer in the bottom of the inning, and that's how it ended. The two teams were scheduled to play only seven innings, but agreed to play the eighth to see if the tie could be broken.
After the game, the teams announced they have agreed in principal to extend their working agreement through the 2000 season. Next season will be the 40th year the Orioles have had their Class AAA team here, but two straight losing seasons have strained relations.
"We had a choice of one or three years," said Naomi Silver, the Red Wings' chief operating officer. "The truth is that this has been a rough season. We wanted to give our fans the comfort of knowing we'll stay on top of this. I don't want the fans to think we'll live with whatever we get. It's a message we want to send to our fans."
And to the Orioles?
"Yes," she said.
Data: Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays, today and Wednesday at 7:05, Thursday at 2:05.
Radio: WTOP-1500, WBAL-1090, WTOP-FM-107.7, WMJS-FM-92.7.
Records: Orioles 34-42; Blue Jays 37-41.
Pitchers: Today -- Orioles RHP Juan Guzman (3-6, 4.64 ERA) vs. Blue Jays RHP Roy Halladay (6-3, 3.89); Wednesday -- RHP Mike Mussina (9-4, 3.51) vs. LHP David Wells (8-6, 5.31); Thursday -- RHP Scott Erickson (3-8, 6.66) vs. RHP Joey Hamilton (1-5, 7.88).